In August 2001, Paul Newman and his family travelled to Africa on a two-week safari with Wilderness Safaris. During this trip, it was suggested that the respective visions of the Association of Hole in the Wall Camps (Newman’s initiative) and Wilderness Safaris could be combined and blended to create a sustainable and effective African programme. In December of the same year the first Children in the Wilderness programme was launched.
The creation of Children in the Wilderness was an organic evolution of the vision of Wilderness Safaris, which has always been that we need to face the challenge of Africa’s wildlife areas being under severe pressure – indeed, the areas in which Wilderness Safaris operates are some of the planet’s more sensitive and fragile environmental hotspots. Therefore, by focusing on children, Children in the Wilderness believes that a programme of this calibre can impact significantly on the local communities in the hope of securing the future of these fragile areas.At-risk children whose childhoods have been disrupted by disease, poverty, or HIV/AIDS spend five educational and nurturing days as guests at Wilderness Safaris’ camps across southern Africa. Through the medium of environmental education (and fun) the children are taught valuable life skills while simultaneously developing awareness for, and appreciation of, the natural heritage that surrounds them.
To supplement the lessons learned during the five day camp stay, educators and volunteers hold follow up workshops with the children at their own schools in the months and years that follow the initial program.
These programmes are offered in Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Eco-Mentor Training: In most regions, their Eco-Mentors volunteer their time in order to work with the children. They interact with the children as counsellors, friends and, most importantly, role models. The Eco-Mentor Training aims to develop local community members, including local teachers, local community members and Wilderness Safaris camp staff by upgrading their skills in environmental understanding and enabling them to better implement school and village environmental projects and initiatives.
Eco-Clubs: Throughout the year, they support Eco-Clubs in rural schools in the communities with which they work. These Eco-Clubs follow a structured curriculum, providing all learners interested in the environment a chance to meet, learn, discuss and expand their knowledge of environmental issues. Children participating in the annual camps are selected from Eco-Clubs. Environmental projects and tasks are earmarked and organised in cooperation with the community members and teachers. The children are encouraged to participate in the planning process and come up with their own ideas in order for them to take ownership of their Eco-Clubs and the projects. The Eco-Clubs are increasingly providing positive community development while reaching a wider community. Projects to date have included tree nurseries and reforestation projects, collage competitions raising environmental awareness, and building “earthbenches” in school grounds.
Camps: A Wilderness Safaris or partner camp is closed for a few days each year, and up to 24 children between the ages of 10 and 17 are hosted in the camp for a three-night, four-day educational and fun-filled programme, including lessons, games, practical sessions and wildlife activities.
Youth Environmental Stewardship (YES) Programme: The YES Programme focuses on children with commitment and potential who have been identified on annual camps and in Eco-Clubs as showing an interest in conservation. YES campers are selected through a rigorous and transparent process based on criteria such as leadership potential, interest in the environment and academic performance. YES camps are usually smaller, with fewer children attending, allowing for focused work groups and increased participation of all children. The programme curriculum is an extension of concepts introduced in Eco-Clubs and at camp, with a greater focus on career guidance, communication, leadership, teamwork and further environmental education. It also aims to inspire the participants to come up with sustainable conservation methods so as to sustain their own lives as well as those of future generations.
Scholarship Programme: In many of the areas where Wilderness operate, primary education is free or has a minimal charge, while secondary schooling usually has a larger fee attached to it. For this reason, a large majority of children will only ever complete their primary schooling, while some may not even have the opportunity to attend primary school. Through Eco-Clubs and Camp programmes, we are able to identify students who are doing well academically but whose parents are unable to send them to secondary school. The Scholarship Programme aims to give these children an opportunity to complete their schooling. The programme provides funding for the necessary school fees and, as often as possible, they try and assist with uniform, stationery, and other schooling needs. Funding comes largely from Wilderness Safaris guests and agents, as well as other Wilderness partner NGOs, corporates, etc.